KENT — When Sean Richards first joined the Seattle Thunderbirds in Brandon, Manitoba, for their Eastern Conference road swing, he first linked up with Thunderbirds center Matthew Wedman, who Richards recognized from their time growing up near Edmonton.
Wedman introduced Richards to his new teammates. As handshakes and pleasantries were exchanged, an awkward malaise pervaded the room until laughter broke the silence.
No one could believe Richards was actually a member of the Thunderbirds.
“It was a ‘Oh my god, how is this real?’ type of thing,’ ” Richards said.
The initial uncomfortableness stemmed from a vexatious relationship between Richards and the Thunderbirds. The overage forward, who was eventually traded to Seattle in a blockbuster deal that sent Zack Andrusiak to the Everett Silvertips, earned two suspensions during the 2018-2019 season for hits against Seattle players while playing for Everett. Both hits resulted in injuries.
But since joining the Thunderbirds, Richards has assimilated almost seamlessly and is playing some of the best hockey of his career, posting 11 points in 11 games since being traded.
“It was a little sad getting traded from Everett, not getting to see my friends and stuff like that,” said Richards, who will play his former team for the first time since being traded on Friday when Everett travels to the ShoWare Center for a 7:35 p.m. tilt.
“But I was a little excited, too. (It was) a fresh start in Seattle, and it’s been turning out pretty good.”
Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said Richards was almost an instant fit in the Thunderbirds’ dressing room and lineup.
“I think it’s one of those situations where you hate playing against a guy but you love to have (him) on your team,” O’Dette said. “After all the guys got to know each other and the ice is broken, he’s fit in well and everyone welcomed him with open arms.
“He fits into our identity with his style of play. The fact that he had success right off the bat … that obviously makes the transition easier when he’s having success and he’s playing well for us.”
The sight of Richards in a Thunderbirds jersey will be peculiar to Everett’s coaches and players.
“If you would have asked me of all the teams, if he wasn’t an Everett Silvertip until the end, I probably wouldn’t have picked (Seattle) as the first team,” Silvertips head coach Dennis Williams said. “But again, it’s great to see him doing well. That’s what it’s about, and his team is doing really well.”
Since Richards’ first game with the Thunderbirds on Jan. 8 at Saskatoon, Seattle has played some of its best hockey of the season, going 7-2-2 over its last 11 games.
The invigorated Thunderbirds are a product of necessary roster tweaks, according to O’Dette.
“I think it’s just a shuffle of the chemistry,” O’Dette said. “I think our chemistry was a bit off with our dynamic in the locker room. (There is) new positive energy with our guys that have come in, and I think our depth is a little bit better from after the trade deadline. We’re a better team.”
While Friday’s game in Kent will be his first against his former teammates, Saturday’s game may be even more emotional for Richards as the Thunderbirds will travel to Everett for a 7:05 p.m. puck drop at Angel of the Winds Arena.
Will his reception be a smattering of boos or resounding applause?
“I don’t really know,” Richards said with a chuckle. “I think I had a pretty good relationship with the fans there, so hopefully (there are) no boos, but I don’t really know.”
Richards said he keeps in close contact with his teammates, who will direct friendly barbs at him now that he’s playing for their archrival.
“We’ll play (video) games once in awhile and just kind of bug him about (the fact that) he forgot about us and how he’s got new friends over there,” said Silvertips forward Connor Dewar. “It’s exciting for him and that he made the best out of the situation that he could. It’s cool to see him have success.”
“I’ll never forget about those (Everett) guys,” Richards said. “Those are some of my best friends.”